Three 2016 graduates of WVU Law are spending a year serving local communities as public interest lawyers.
Patrick Holbrook, Susan Waldie and Micki Biggs were each awarded post-graduate fellowships by the West Virginia Fund for Law in the Public Interest. As fellows, they receive $46,000 to cover their salary and benefits while working in a West Virginia legal services organization until October 2017.
“There’s a lack of access to justice in West Virginia for those who can’t afford
Jennifer Powell, director of the
Center for Law and Public Service at WVU Law. “Funding a full-time, licensed
attorney to work in these organizations really helps, in a direct way, to provide
additional legal services to people who are in desperate need of them.”
Biggs is completing her fellowship at West Virginia Senior Legal Aid in Morgantown.
Biggs grew up in Helvetia, West Virginia, a community that’s home to a large number of senior citizens, she said.
“I appreciate the intergenerational interactions that I’ve had ever since I was a kid, and I thought working with Senior Legal Aid would be a good way to help the state’s senior citizens.”
Biggs recently played a role in researching and drafting a legislative bill relating to financial exploitation of senior citizens.
She has also enjoyed helping clients with their legal issues over the phone.
“Senior citizens in West Virginia often don’t have access to transportation, so we provide free legal services on the phone via a hotline,” she said. “When I can help people work their way through their legal problem and just make an effort to understand them better, it’s really rewarding to hear their attitude change by the end of the call.”
Biggs graduated from Berea College in Kentucky in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. At WVU Law, she was a member of Public Interest Advocates and a Dean’s Fellow. She was also awarded the West Virginia State Bar Public Interest Scholarship, which pays for one year of law school for each year Biggs works in public interest in West Virginia after graduation.
Holbrook is completing his fellowship at the Charleston office of Legal Aid of West Virginia.
As a law student, Holbrook wanted to go into family law and help LGBTQ couples adopt. At Legal Aid, he is working on a project that helps children who are already in the foster care system or who are at risk of entering the foster care system.
While Holbrook knew what he would be working on before he began his fellowship at Legal Aid, he has been able to experience many different areas of law that he had no previous experience with, he said.
“With this fellowship, there are so many opportunities to dabble in things and get different, new experiences under my belt very early on in my career,” said Holbrook. “In the couple of months that I’ve been at Legal Aid, I’ve kind of fallen in love with housing law.”
Holbrook was recently trusted by his supervisor to take on a last-minute housing case himself and represent a client in court.
“I was able to negotiate a settlement that prevented someone from being evicted, and then I went to represent them in court, all in around two and a half days,” he said.
Holbrook is from Beaver Creek, Ohio. He graduated from Wright State University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a minor in International Studies.
While he was in law school, Holbrook was a member of Public Interest Advocates and participated in the Child and Family Law Clinic. He was also a Dean’s Fellow, president of OUTlaw and secretary for the class of 2016.
Waldie is completing her fellowship at Appalachian Mountain Advocates in Lewisburg, West Virginia.
“Appalachian Mountain Advocates has fought a lot of important cases that have set precedents for environmental law, both federal and state,” she said. “Their cases really demonstrate what quality attorneys they are.”
Waldie has been able to learn techniques that only professional experience can provide, and she is most proud of her newfound skills related to case management and legal strategies.
“My first month here, I was able to sit in on an oral argument with my supervisor, Derek Teaney in front of the West Virginia Supreme Court. It was about landowner rights and eminent domain rights related to a natural gas pipelines,” said Waldie. “Derek ended up winning that case, and it was great to have the chance to sit on the bench and go over case with him, to get his take on it and his tactics, and see what he did to prepare.”
Waldie plans to pursue a career in public interest law after she completes this fellowship.
“I feel good coming to work every day knowing that I’m helping somebody, and that there’s a bigger purpose to what we’re doing here,” she said. “Public interest work is something you can feel good about. No matter how rough your day is, you can get up the next morning knowing that you’re contributing something to a community that’s giving back to you in multiple ways every day.”
Waldie is from Charleston, West Virginia. She graduated from Marshal University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
At WVU Law, Waldie was a member of Public Interest Advocates and the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic.
The West Virginia Fund for Law in the Public Interest provides funding for post-graduate fellowships every year, and candidates go through a competitive application process in their third year. Criteria includes academic achievement, demonstrated interest in public interest law and leadership in student organizations.
After they are selected, fellows must both pass the bar and be sworn in to practice before their fellowship begins.
Three post-graduate public interest law fellowships are available for 2017 College of Law graduates. Funding for those fellowships will total $50,000 per fellow to pay salary and benefits for one year in a public interest law organization of their choosing.